Recently, I worked with an SVP of Sales at a large technology company. He requested as part of a larger engagement around sales transformation that The Alexander Group conduct a sales time survey of his direct, field sales force. In addition to the information typically gleaned in such a study (how much time reps spend engaged with customers vs. prospecting vs. on administrative tasks, etc.), this SVP wanted to know how often field reps engaged with customers via phone instead of in-person. The answer was eye-opening; the 1,300+ direct field reps in the survey estimated that about 70 percent of their contact time with customers was over the phone, e-mail, or video conference. The finding provokes an intriguing set of questions: If field reps are spending so much “virtual” time with customers, what implications does that have for our traditional inside sales force? More fundamentally, what is the difference between field and inside sales?
The recent recession has caused a number of paradigm shifts within sales forces. Many are just beginning to recover to pre-recession headcount levels. Companies have slashed (and periodically frozen) travel and entertainment budgets while placing even greater scrutiny on how often and under which circumstances sales reps travel. In addition, improving technology plays an ever-expanding role in sales interaction. Video conferencing, e-mail and even social media have supplanted face-to-face meetings in many sales pursuits. Customers who were once more willing to give up their time to meet with vendors are increasingly stretched as their own organizations contract and responsibilities increase. Thus, the modern field sales, face-to-face organization is actually a virtual sales organization enabled with technology. In such an environment, it seems logical to ask what role, if any, traditional inside sales should play to complement or perhaps replace the role of the traditional direct sales force.
An interesting trend in the midst of all this change is that investment in inside sales is exploding. Estimates vary, but the preponderance of the data show that inside sales is growing at nearly twice the rate of field sales in several key industries, including technology, business services, financial services and traditional manufacturing. The reasons for this trend vary from company to company but tend to coalesce around several factors:
To return to a question posed earlier in the article, if field reps are conducting the majority of their customer-facing time virtually, what is the difference between field and inside sales? The best answer, simply stated, is that best-in-class inside sales is programmatic, while even virtual field sales activity tends to be more ad-hoc and situational. Inside sales follows a schedule or a cadence designed to optimize their productivity. Technology enablement and repetition allows inside reps to ascend learning curves faster and create a more consistent experience for the customer than their field counterparts, creating a competitive advantage for those companies that utilize inside sales proficiently.
The most commonly asked question when working with a client relatively new to the inside sales function is, “I know I need inside sales in my organization, but what should I have them doing? In which types of roles are other mature inside sales investing?” While understanding the right inside roles for an organization requires a thorough review of that organization’s go-to-market strategy, there are clearly some trends emerging in the types of roles companies are building within their inside sales groups. In chronological order of involvement in the customer /prospect life cycle, those roles include:
Role: Mid-Market Inside Opportunity Generation Rep (IOGR)
Role: Inside Sales Specialist (ISS)
Role: Inside Customer Success Manager (ICSM)
A review of the jobs above indicates that organizations are increasingly using inside sales to support customers and prospects throughout the life cycle, from acquisition to post-sales support and value creation. The common threads that make these functions ideal to support in an inside environment are repetition of activity and cadence and the need to extend expertise virtually throughout the selling organization.
The collective experience of Alexander Group consultants clearly indicates that top organizations are increasingly and aggressively using inside sales to gain a competitive advantage. Companies will continue to push precious field resources to value-intensive customer engagement activities such as customer ideation, innovation and value creation in an effort to maximize profitability. This leaves many core sales functions traditionally performed by the field uncovered. Properly deployed, inside sales provides a profitable, efficient avenue to perform critical sales tasks more efficiently and effectively than ever before. In short, successful organizations are those that continue to raise the bar on what field and inside sales can do collectively as part of a more profitable go-to-market engine.
How are you leveraging inside sales in your organization? Learn more about how you can assess the need and deploy inside sales roles.